The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) reports that deployments of wind turbines around the world have reached record levels, and the council expects that growth to continue apace until at least 2030. GWEC forecasts a 15% year-on-year growth of wind energy capacity in 2023.
This increase in capacity correlates with growth in wind farm developments around the world, as well as the size and power of the wind turbines built. While offering a sustainable and powerful source of energy, wind farms are capital heavy developments that are costly to build and operate. Sustainable energy companies, therefore, must focus on decreasing the levelized cost of energy to compete successfully with fossil-fuels.
Wind turbine inspections are an expensive – and dangerous – element of wind farm operations. Drones, combined with the powerful vHive data platform, provide a cost-effective and safer alternative.
Traditionally, wind turbine inspections are performed in one of two methods. The first is to have technicians manually climb the tower to inspect the turbine. After stopping the turbines, rope access technicians climb the equipment and inspect turbine blades and components. This method is extremely dangerous, due to the height of the equipment and environmental factors. The rope climbing method also provides only a single interpretation of equipment conditions: companies must rely upon the experience and training of the inspector to find maintenance needs.
The second common method of inspection is to use specialized camera equipment operated from the ground. While significantly safer, this method is not as frequently used due to the lack of comprehensive inspection data that can be gathered from this distance.
Drones offer a means of getting a camera close to wind turbine blades, while operating safely from the ground. Alone, however, conventional industrial drones are very expensive and can be challenging to pilot around wind turbines effectively, even for experts. Pilots must continuously look down to their controls and back up to the turbine to ensure that they maintain a safe setback from the turbine blades while still gathering the data required for inspection. Environmental and geographic factors such as wind and offshore operations may make piloting even more difficult. These issues lead to drone data that is inconsistent and depends on the skills of the individual pilot.
The vHive platform eliminates these challenges by utilizing inexpensive, off the shelf drones, made autonomous with vHive’s groundbreaking software. With a few simple inputs, vHive calculates the optimal flight path for inspection of the turbines. A touch of a button launches the drone to navigate autonomously around the equipment, maintaining a consistent distance from the structure while gathering data. This autonomous flight functionality results in precise, repeatable data at every inspection or survey, regardless of pilot. By using repeatable flight plans, companies can accurately compare results over time – tracking progress of new builds or faults over time.
The vHive platform then processes data into precise 3D models of the assets. These digital twins can be visually interpreted by stakeholders from the safety of their offices, allowing collaboration and shared interpretation. vHive’s AI-powered analysis engine can be applied to the digital twins to identify specific maintenance issues, like hairline cracks, leading edge erosion, lightning damage or bird strikes. These issues can be classified and annotated to streamline maintenance operations and provide valuable insights about trends and the progression of ongoing issues.
Better Data, in Less Time
The combination of inexpensive, off-the-shelf drones and vHive’s digital twin software offers major benefits for wind farms. Not only is operating a drone from the ground safe, drone operation requires minimal field personnel with little time to deploy. Autonomous, drone-enabled inspections can be completed in a fraction of the time needed for a traditional inspection: a detailed survey of 3 blades can be done in less than 30 minutes.
The digital twins generated by the vHive platform provide a precise, visually accessible single source of truth about what exists in the field starting with the development and construction process and continuing throughout the lifecycle of the turbine. Automatically generated reports provide asset data and actionable inspection insights for efficient and digitized asset management, as well as optimized, cost-effective maintenance programs.
Drones combined with advanced software platforms are revolutionizing the sustainable energy industry, providing a dramatic improvement over traditional methods in workforce safety, cost, and accuracy. As the wind energy industry surges around the world, drones and AI-powered software are rapidly becoming the new standard for monitoring and inspection, making sustainable energy more competitive in costs and safer for people, as well as for the environment.
Contact vHive today to schedule a field visit and experience drone-based inspections with vHive in the field.